Located only about two and a half hours from Los Angeles, Joshua Tree National Park is the closest park to both the City of Angels and San Diego making it one of the more visited parks in Southern California with nearly 2.5 million visitors.

Joshua Tree is made up of two deserts, the Mojave and Colorado, featuring contrasting terrain making this one of the most unique parks in the United States. The Mojave is known for its rocky mountains, high elevation, bouldering, and is where you will find the trees this park is named after. The Colorado is much lower in elevation, flat, and is made up of Cholla Cacti.

Although this park is known more for its rock climbing and bouldering, Joshua Tree also includes a variety of hiking trails. If planning on taking a trip here, I highly recommend the fall through spring months as summer frequently sees temperatures in the triple digits making hiking not only miserable, but dangerous if not experienced or prepared.

1. Barker Dam

    I always describe this hike as more of a stroll with the end destination to a dam built in 1900 by cattlemen who frequented the Mojave desert before it became the national park that we know. In the early morning, before visitors take over the area, wildlife stop by for a drink, so if you want to spot a bighorn sheep, then the early hours of the day is your best shot. This mile and a half hike also features petroglyphs on the way back to the parking lot. Right now is the best time to visit this location as the mass amount of rain we received this winter has filled the dam, which I have never seen in my many years of coming to this park.

2. Wall Street Mill

    This 2.4 mile out-and-back trail to a late 19th century gold ore crushing mill is another stroll found within Joshua Tree. Although a tad bit more strenuous than Barker Dam due to the soft sand, but only a tad, this is another one of the park’s more popular trails. As you traverse through the desert to the mill, along the way, you will pass a well, bunkhouse, outhouse, various 19th century cars, and even the location where Worth Bagley, a man who owned the land next to the owner of Wall Street Mill, was killed. Bagley was killed after an ongoing dispute over the land and a stone was resurrected in this spot stating, “Here is where Worth Bagley bit the dust at the hand of W.F. Keys May 11, 1943.”

3. 49 Palms Oasis

    I would not say this is the easiest hike in the park, but for more experienced hikers, this is a moderate one. If not as experienced, your calves are going to get a good workout. 49 Palms Oasis is a three-mile, round-trip hike with a well maintained trail to a fan palm oasis. It requires about two to three hours and ascends 300 feet each way, but if you are lucky, you may also come across bighorn sheep taking a break from the desert heat, which I have yet to have happen. This hike features barrel cacti, one of my favorites, and during the spring, wildflowers pop out from the rocky mountains creating a blanket of yellow. If you have health problems and start feeling it at the beginning, I highly recommend turning around because the strenuous nature of the hike is continuous.


Death Valley is a park that continues to capture my heart, where mountains spring from the valley floor, towering over the lowest point in the U.S. and displaying alien like rock formations in a variety of colors. It is one of those parks where you suddenly feel small, but in the most inspiring way.

Straddling the border of California and Nevada, Death Valley National Park prides itself in holding the title of the largest national park in the lower 48 states and sports a variety of terrain such as salt flats, dunes, badlands, canyons, and more.

Competing against parks such as Yosemite and Joshua Tree in California, Death Valley is often not the park that comes to mind. This is by far one of the most underrated parks in the Golden State and one I frequently encourage others to visit. With that, here are my personal top 5 things to do Death Valley. There are many things to do in this park and I have yet to check out everything, so use this as a rough guideline for your next trip.

(A couple photos in here were taken by my amazing roommate, Melanie Kim, who is also a photographer. Go check out her website and Instagram.)

1. Zabriskie Point

Located just a quick drive from Furnace Creek and with only a short walk to an incredible view, this is a must do for anyone visiting the park. This viewpoint offers stunning views of badlands that vary in color as white salt flats and snow capped mountains loom in the distance. The best time to visit this spot is at sunrise as the soft light accentuates the unique terrain perfectly.    

2. Camping

    The first time I visited Death Valley, we did a one day trip, but my second time we made a two day trip out of it. The extra time allowed us to explore the park a bit more and made it easier to catch sunrise, which is a must as the park is even more stunning before the harsh light hits it later in the morning. Death Valley is also known for its dark skies and camping allows you take advantage of the lack of light pollution. But overall, camping is one of my favorite activities and is a great escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life — I recommend doing this at every park.


3. Badwater Basin

    Deemed the lowest point in North America with an elevation of 282 feet consists of a small spring-fed pool of “bad water,” not only making it undrinkable, but also giving it its name.  Although this is technically not the lowest point in the park, this location is easier to traverse and allows you to walk out for a closer view of the salt flats. Prepare for some chilly weather if it is winter or blistering heat in the summer at this particular location, but despite the extreme temperatures, it is a must see.


4. Dante’s View

    Named after Dante Alighieri, the author of Dante’s Divine Comedy, this 5,476 foot viewpoint overlooks the valley floor as well as its infamous salt flats. Textured mountains rise from the valley floor as the white salt flats appear as streams running through the valley and snowy mountains parallel the viewpoint. Only a short drive up from one of the main roads, once there, visitors can take several hiking trails including one with picnic benches to enjoy your lunch.   

5. Amargosa Cafe

    Although not located in the park, this quaint cafe is located in a small town right outside the valley. We stopped by to enjoy a cup of tea before hitting the road for the long drive back and I recommend this quick stop to anyone looking for a hearty meal or a caffeine boost.


My last day in Portland started off with a Grace Belle Instameet at Good Coffee. It was wonderful to sit around for a couple hours and discuss all things from work to school to travel with girls pursuing similar careers while drinking, you guessed it, a chai. Good Coffee’s chai lands near the top of my list with its “good” balance between sweet and spicy. Often, I find one outweighs the other, but this drink was just right.

After a while, our tummies began to rumble and we knew we needed to get brunch in us soon. We were in Portland, brunch is more of a thing here than Los Angeles, so we had to partake and decided on Trinket. We took a 15 minute stroll through the neighborhood to the next destination and although it was raining, it was nice knowing this may be the last bit of rain I experience before the LA heat hits. As you can see in the photo below, my shoe choice this day was not the best since I did not expect to walk around, but I survived.

I am a big fan of eggs benedict and a local sitting next to me informed me I must order the duck eggs benedict. It was a little more than I wanted to pay, but I didn’t spend much money on food this trip with all of our collaborations and I knew I would regret not ordering this must try dish, so I splurged a little, well, the college grad’s version of splurging. And boy, did this dish not disappoint. The ducks eggs, canadian bacon, and hollandaise sauce, which had a sweeter flavor than normal complemented each other perfectly and I did not regret my decision one bit.

We still had some extra time before I had to head off to the airport, so we made a stop at Tea Bar to get some work done. I had been wanting to try this place for quite some time and was beyond excited to fit it into my last day. This shop is any photographer's dream with it’s open space and perfect lighting. I ordered a chai boba and took some photos — I couldn’t miss out on this opportunity.

Sadly, my time in Portland was coming to an end and Sam’s dad came to pick me up to take me to the airport. As some of you may have seen, the Grace Belle girls did in fact stay longer. Unfortunately, due to my job, I had to head back a couple days early, but the time spent wandering one of my favorite cities was the break I needed from work and a reminder of why I want to move to this city. This trip served as a way for me to make one last decision if this is where I want to be — and it is. It may be in a couple months or maybe in year, but it is all in God’s timing.

*Good Coffee photos courtesy of Samantha Olson and edited by me*